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Court of Appeals Upholds Foundation Victory in "TEACH" Challenge

Direct Subsidy to Parochial Schools Unconstitutional

A 3-judge panel for the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled on Friday, April 27, in favor of a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenging direct subsidy to religious schools. The appeals court upheld the earlier ruling of federal Judge John C. Shabaz barring cash grants to religious schools through the TEACH (Technology for Education Achievement Board) program.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in November, 1998, challenging the constitutionality of the Wisconsin program subsidizing telecommunications access for both public and private, sectarian and nonsectarian, schools. Shabaz found internet subsidy to religious schools constitutional, but ruled that cash grants were impermissible to reimburse sectarian schools that had already installed data lines or video links to access the Internet.

The TEACH program had spent $58,873 to reimburse nine religiously affiliated schools and colleges through the cash grant program.

Justice Harlington Wood, Jr., in concurring that the cash grants are unconstitutional, noted:

"Nothing in the statute, for instance, bars a qualifying school from paying out of state funds the salaries of employees who maintain the school chapel, or the cost of renovating classrooms in which religion is taught, or the cost of heating and lighting those same facilities. Absent appropriate restrictions on expenditures for these and similar purposes, it simply cannot be denied that this section has a primary effect that advances religion in that it subsidizes directly the religious activities of sectarian elementary and secondary schools."

Wood also wrote "there is no evidence of any ability or attempt to monitor the use of the grant money received by the religious schools."

The cost to taxpayers to provide a data line to schools, colleges, public libraries, and other eligible institutions is about $640 per month, and costs $2,300 per month for a video link. Taxpayers have funded the program through a monthly surcharge to Ameritech.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Mark Bugher, Case No. 99-2850.

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